This is the perfect time to highlight some of the benefits of getting up off the couch, putting on a warm jacket, your walking shoes and going out for a walk: Probably the last thing you want to be doing as the days begin to get shorter and the weather colder but hopefully we can change your mind!
Fortunately, the great majority of us can walk and it is the most primal and beneficial form of exercise you can do, it could be argued that it is a defining characteristic of being human. Generations of our earliest ancestors walked across the African savanna and through the ages to where you are sat reading this right now reading this article. Walking is in our blood but it is something we do incredibly little of in this modern age.
So why exactly is it good for me? How do I get started?
Following are nine major benefits and then some tips on how to get started.
1) It’s free!
You don’t need a fancy gym membership, a personal trainer or any special kit, just some appropriate and comfortable footwear and the motivation to step out of the front door.
2) Its good for your circulatory system
It decreases your risk of heart attack and stroke by lowering blood pressure, strengthening your heart muscle and helping you lose weight which in turn can help to lower cholesterol.
It’s good for you even if you have had a heart attack by helping you gently increase your fitness by making your body more efficient at utilizing the oxygen in your blood, just make sure to speak to your doctor before increasing your activity levels.
3) It strengthens your bones
As we age our bones become less dense (especially if you’re a woman who has gone through the menopause). This increases the risk of debilitating fractures, in the hip for example. Walking can make your bones denser or help maintain what density you have by putting a positive pressure on them which makes them adapt to allow them to take more stress.
One study carried out on post-menopausal women shows that just 30 minutes of walking a day reduced their risk of hip fracture by 40%.
4) It burns calories
In conjunction with eating less and eating healthier walking is a valuable tool in the battle for weight loss as it requires you to expend energy to propel yourself.
Walking for just 30 minutes can burn 120 or more calories.
5) It helps decrease pain and improve mood
Walking causes the brain to release its own natural painkillers and mood enhancers. These are called endorphins. Take a walk and feel how it subtly effects your mood.
6) Stronger joints and muscles
During walking the leg and abdomen muscles have to work very hard and become stronger over time because of this. So if you have achy knees, hips or lower back walking can help strengthen the muscles that provide vital support and stability to these areas.
Secondly, the cartilage in joints like your knees and hips don’t have their own blood supply and nourishment is provided by a lubricating substance called synovial fluid (think WD40). This fluid relies on movement and compression to spread it around the joint surface. A lack of movement, especially walking, leads to less lubrication and nourishment of the cartilage which speeds up the process of wear and tear in a joint.
7) It keeps you brain sharp
Studies have shown that it improves memory, helps increase academic performance and boosts creativity.
8) It improves balance
As we get older we become more likely to fall. This can be for many reasons; sometimes due to nervous system problems and sometimes due to serious injury, but much of the time it can be down to a lack of physical conditioning and strength caused by a lifestyle spent largely sitting on our bums. Walking can go a long way to improving this situation.
9) It helps keep blood sugar levels stable
This is very important if you have type 2 Diabetes or are at risk of this. Even a short fifteen minute walk can lower blood sugar levels.
How to get started? What do I need? How often? How long?
How to get started?
Put on your shoes, open the front door and go for a walk.
What do I need?
- Depending on any underlying conditions (such as fallen arches) all you need is a comfortable pair of shoes that are suitable for the terrain you are going to be walking on. If you have any foot conditions and need to wear orthotics or inserts, now would be a good time to wear them.
- Around the block or to the shop? A pair of trainers or shoes.
- Walking the dog in the country? A pair of hiking shoes or trainers depending on the weather.
- Hiking in the hills or woods? A sturdy and comfortable pair of hiking boots or shoes, or anything you feel comfortable and secure wearing.
- On the beach? Bare foot.
- If you need a walking stick, use it. If you’re out walking in hilly terrain walking poles may be a good idea to take some stress off the knees but are not vital, it all depends on what you feel you need but essentially all you need is a pair of shoes.
How long and how often?
Aim to walk for 30 minutes or more a day. This can be broken into chunks and doesn’t have to be 30 minutes all at once. You could do three bitesize chunks of 10 minutes if that fits into your lifestyle and still reap the benefits.
If you haven’t walked or exercised for a long time you can start by adding just 5 minutes a day and slowly building up the time you walk.
Brisk walking is great but if you have a health problem or a musculoskeletal problem which makes brisk walking hard a slow stroll is still just as beneficial.
It is important to approach this gently and not force yourself. If you struggle to walk for 5 minutes or less before you are exhausted or in pain take a break and carry on when you feel ready, you will find that over time your strength and fitness will increase and you’ll soon be covering greater distances.
Walking can be done anywhere, be it around your local neighbourhood, in the supermarket, by a canal, on the beach, in the country side, on a mountain, in a forest or on a treadmill, it doesn’t matter, just get walking and feel the benefits for yourself.
It’s all well and good knowing the benefits of walking but there can be more questions regarding how to get started. You may have a long term health condition or an injury you are worried about. You might have been inactive for a long time and don’t know where to start. Our therapists at Woodside Clinic or your GP are the perfect place to go if you feel you need more information or reassurance about incorporating more physical activity into your life.
Below are some links to guidelines from some of the world’s leading health authorities and they all point towards 30 minutes of gentle physical activity every day with walking being a perfect candidate. If you are interested you can visit the websites provided for a more detailed description.
NHS Physical activity guidelines:
ACSM physical activity guidelines:
European physical activity guidelines:
Arthritis research UK, regarding exercise and osteoarthritis
Hints and tips from osteoarthritis sufferers: